Five years and two designs later, Huntington Beach will finally celebrate the premiere of its Sept. 11 memorial — on Sunday, Sept. 11.
The $200,000 monument, whose centerpiece is two 91/2-foot-tall granite pillars paying tribute to the towers that fell 15 years ago in a terrorist attack, features two original pieces of steel from the Twin Towers. It sits atop a pentagon with the words "We Will Never Forget" and is accompanied by plaques that recall what happened on that day and a list of donors.
Those involved are excited to share the memorial with the community, especially since the road to completion has been rocky.
The idea of a memorial first started to take shape on Sept. 11, 2011, when the Huntington Beach Police Officers Foundation and the Firefighters Assn. received the two pieces of steel after befriending firefighter Chris Howard, whose father, George Howard, a police officer with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, died rescuing people from the burning buildings.
"We accepted the steel with the intent of building a 9/11 memorial in Huntington Beach to honor those who lost their lives," said Dennis Hashin, co-chairman of the city's 9/11 Memorial Committee.
Hashin, along with a group of volunteers, worked on a design and planned to install the memorial near City Hall where fountains once stood. They raised about $400,000 through fundraisers.
The memorial was to include two 19-foot-tall towers with a waterfall. But in 2013, it was determined that the area was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act because it was on a slope, and that the soil at the former oil field had been contaminated.
The problem with the steepness meant having to level the ground and spread out the project.
"We suddenly went from developing a small area — being the fountain area — to having to develop a little over a half acre of land," Hashin said, adding that about $200,000 had been spent on the renovations at that point. "Our project grew somewhat substantially at that point."
The costs also grew, by an additional $600,000, causing Hashin and his colleagues to worry about whether the project could be completed. They continued fundraising through a gala, golf tournament and advertising at city events.
Hashin, who described himself as a "man of faith," said his prayers were answered one night in February when he had a simple thought: "Build with what you've got."
So, with the $200,000 left over from the original $400,000, the committee went back to the drawing board, redesigned the memorial and decided to place it at a new location, near the City Council chambers, which meets ADA compliance requirements, after getting the permits for construction in April.
The memorial is set to premiere Sunday at a ceremony that will include the posting of a 1 World Trade Center flag, a flyover by the Orange County Sheriff's Department's Air Support Unit, pipes and drums playing "Amazing Grace" and the singing of the national anthem by students with the Huntington Beach High School Academy for the Performing Arts.
For Jim Katapodis, co-chairman of the committee and now mayor, the words "We Will Never Forget" on the memorial are especially important.
"We said we will never forget," said the former police officer. "That's important to me that we make sure that people don't forget what happened on Sept. 11. We have to teach our kids and everybody else about that day.... It really warms your heart when you see the pieces of steel."
What: Huntington Beach 9/11 ceremony
Where: 2000 Main St.
When: 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday
Brittany Woolsey, firstname.lastname@example.org